Many like to think of SWAT as an exclusive group. It isn’t easy to get onto a SWAT team, what with all the training required. Well, there is an even smaller group, at least in the Los Angeles Police Department the Special Investigation Section. The average time “on the job” for applicants is 15 years. You have to be a detective just to apply, and you have to have proven yourself with many successful investigations. Why? Because SIS goes after the baddest of the bad.
I flew out to Los Angeles to see the guns and the officers of SIS. What I found were not the fire-breathing chargers of many a police story. What I found was a dedicated group of officers who wanted to find the bad guys, apprehend them and then go home safely at night. How bad are the bad guys they search for? When I asked for a thumbnail description of the miscreants, one of the officers simply described them as “having a high propensity toward violence.”
Hmm, must be pretty exciting, eh? No, the job (again, in the words of another officer) involves “sitting in a car 12 hours a day.” Sitting and waiting, and when the bad guy shows up, or commits another crime, arresting him. Often with SWAT as backup, but sometimes by themselves. To do that, you’d want a dependable sidearm (and lots of buddies with dependable firearms, too).
The features of the new Kimber SIS have been selected with the job requirements of SIS and the training program of LAPD in mind. First, it is an ultra-reliable Kimber 1911 pistol. In .45 ACP, of course. Standard bushing and recoil-spring design–no full-length guide rods or bull barrels for the LAPD. The barrel is a Kimber match barrel, properly fitted to slide and frame. The trigger pull is clean and crisp, set in the five-pound region, and the solid trigger (aluminum, no extra holes) lacks an adjustable trigger stop.
The frame is checkered 30 lines to the inch, and the frame has the corners rounded. The sight is a specially modified Kimber fixed sight, with the front face squared off. The LAPD Academy teaches officers who need to do a one-handed slide cycle to do it by pressing the sight against their holster, duty belt or other convenient object. While members of the SIS do not work alone, and often use long arms, they specifically requested a rear sight that could be one-hand cycled.
Kimber, in laying out the pistol, figured a way to incorporate the “SIS” of the unit into the cocking serrations, If you look closely, you’ll see that the grooves are a stylized “SIS”.
On top of everything is the KimPro finish in dark gray over the stainless slide and frame. Why a baked-on finish on a high-end semi-custom gun? Well, Los Angeles is hot in the summer months. Sitting in plainclothes in their cars, it is a sure thing that officers will be sweating onto their sidearms, and no one wants a rusty blaster, now do they? It just doesn’t look right. And it might not work when you need it.
We spent an evening at the LAPD Academy talking with the officers of the SIS and the next day went out to the range and watched them do some drills. They were not just showing off for us, they were practicing on the standard shooting and tactical drills that they do all the time. What was interesting to me was that they all looked like they’d just stepped up to the firing line at Gunsite, circa 1985. I mean, single-stack guns, Weaver stance, hand and thumb position, hammers and aimed fire–it was a little creepy. I half expected Jeff Cooper to walk up behind me and ask where my sidearm was.
After the drills, some of the members of the squad and I ambled over to the “long range” target and tried our hand at a black-painted steel silhouette just past 100 yards downrange. After a few shots I determined that the pistol handed to me was hitting spot-on at 100. I indicated another steel silhouette downrange and asked one of the officers there, “Is the red one OK to shoot at?” He said, “Sure, but it’s really out there.”
As I was sighting in, I asked G&A’s Payton Miller to call my shots and then asked the officer, “How far?” Just before the shot broke he said “300 yards.” After the shot Payton called out, “Four feet high.” I corrected and fired, and he said, “Just under the base.” My third shot produced a satisfying tink from the plate. Oh yes, these guns shoot. I tried a few more shots, all close but not on steel, and when I ran out of ammo I handed it back.
Aaron Cummings of Kimber assured me that there would be a pair of pistols wending their way to me just as soon as they could pry them out of the production stream. The two I received–the full-size with light rail and the Ultra, the smallest of the SIS line–arrived in due time with the usual Kimber accessories.
On closer examination, I can see where the real-world experience of SIS met with the manufacturing expertise of Kimber. The 30-lpi checkering on the frontstrap stops short of the magazine-well opening. As a result, you don’t have the lines of the checkering acting as stress-risers, and thus you limit the potential for cracking frames. Also, the magazine-well beveling is subdued, no doubt for the same reason. I’ve seen guns that had been dropped in training and in shootings, and frames can get bent or cracked as a result.
The slide and frame have been dehorned, but not so aggressively that you’d think it had been thrown against a belt sander. The grips are only partially covered with a stippling pattern to increase friction. It looks good, and it only exists where your hand needs it. I find the grips a bit on the thick side, but that’s a personal preference. Other shooters I’ve handed the SIS models to have loved the grips. The ambi safety clicks on and off positively, and the off side is narrow enough that I don’t have problems with it banging into my knuckle (again, a personal issue). The grip safety has a speed bump at the bottom to ensure that your hand engages it.
The Ultra obviously lacks the light rail of the full-size Kimber (you can have the full-size sans rail, too), and the frame is shorter. As a result, the other three models come with three Kimber eight-shot magazines, while the Ultra comes with three seven-shot mags. Also, the barrel on the Ultra is coned, lacking a bushing. But they all come with the single-hand-racking sights, complete with three-dot night-sight inserts.
One thing some of the other gunwriters on the trip commented on was the possibility of the relatively unaggressive “SIS” logo not offering enough grip to rack the slide. They were worried it would be too slippery when combined with the slick KimPro finish. The day after the two guns arrived here at Gun Abuse Central I received 10 inches of snow. Obviously, sweating onto the Kimbers to test the slipperiness of the slides was off the table. So instead I retired down to the laundry room.
There I ran the tap water into the laundry tub, stuck the Kimber underneath the faucet and proceeded to rack the slide repeatedly. If you’re going to try this for yourself, be aware of two things Many feel you should not dry-rack a 1911 too much; it is supposed to be bad for several of the parts.
And you’ll need a bath towel when you’re done. After doing it 25 or 30 times, I noticed that my hand was indeed slipping. Not because the finish was too slick but because I was getting tired. Have no fear of slippage; if your hands are strong enough to rack the slide, your grip is strong enough to get a good purchase on it.
But the real test is shooting. I started by shooting over sandbags to see how well they group. Plinking in sunny southern California and trying to shoot groups for record in the wintry Midwest are not the same. I can blame the 18-degree weather, or just blame me, but the groups are good although not spectacular.
Still, at 25 yards I shot groups smaller than the apparent width of the front sight, with either Kimber. Combine cold weather, full-power .45 ACP ammo and a trigger pull that you can actually carry on duty or for CCW and groups just over two inches are quite good.
The two sizes of the Kimber SIS also allowed me to do a quick comparison of velocity. The five-inch Government and the three inches of the Ultra are at the extreme ends of normal for the 1911. You can get longer or shorter, but not much and not without spending buckets of money on a custom gun. What I found did not surprise me, as the relatively low-pressure .45 ACP does its exemplary work through bullet mass and frontal area, not velocity. You’re going to lose some velocity going to the short barrel, but not much, and what is left is plenty to put an end to the careers of miscreants bent on murder.
I figured if I can’t test the two SIS pistols in the warm, sweaty conditions for which they were made, I could abuse them by subjecting them to some frozen Midwest climate. The nearest snowdrift was by the bird feeder, and the juncos and goldfinches were mightily annoyed by my tromping. I took two five-gallon buckets and dropped a room-temperature Kimber into each. They had loaded magazines but empty chambers, and they were cocked and locked.
I shoveled a cubic foot of snow into each bucket, clamped on the lid and gave them 15 seconds of my “five-gallon maraca” treatment. I then locked them in my truck in an unheated garage and left them alone. Two days later I took them along with me to the range for another test-firing. I simply opened each bucket, dumped it on the ground and fished around in the snow until I found the Kimber. I pushed the safety off, racked the slide and fired through the full magazine. I was not the least bit surprised when they both fired without fail.
For warm-weather pistols, they worked just fine in a frigid-Midwest test. In the course of testing the two SIS models, I put about 1,000 rounds through each. As you would expect, recoil with the Ultra is a bit more stout than the full-size SIS, but as it is all steel, it’s not too bad at all. Before starting the test firing of the big gun, I clamped an Insight X2L light/laser combo onto it. For a compact little light, it puts out 40 lumens and has a built-in red laser. As you’d expect of a light from Insight, despite my thousand rounds of hardball and hollowpoints, it still works just fine.
Buyers of a Kimber SIS not only get a solid, reliable and accurate pistol, Kimber is sending $15 from the sale of each one to the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, which supports the families of officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. If you need more of an endorsement, consider the officers of SIS As an optional but not issued piece of gear, they have to personally purchase their Kimbers. The 21 officers in the SIS have dug down into their own pockets and purchased a total of 125 SIS-model Kimbers. When someone who depends on a particular piece of lifesaving gear buys it themselves, I notice. When a group of them buys almost six each, I want one.